If you are the primary caregiver for an elderly mother (or father) and are struggling with the demands that being a family caregiver presents – here are some tips on how you can overcome the stress and take back your quality of life and your mental health.
Tell me, does this sound familiar?
It has been two years since my mom was diagnosed with dementia. I am the only child in my family, and it is up to me to take care of her.
This is a very common scenario for family caregivers who have no siblings.
It’s been a struggle from day one to take care of my mom. But at least my older brother and I are providing home care for her. But I feel I am doing most of the work. There is so much responsibility on me now; it feels like there are no breaks or time for myself. The only time I have is when she is asleep. The guilt and stress never end!
A second common scenario is that the caregiver (the adult child(ren) feel that they are never doing enough. This then creates guilt and stress and self loathing. All of these don’t do anyone any good.
Over half of caregivers surveyed by the American Psychological Association as part of their ongoing study of the impact of different stressors, reported feeling overwhelmed by the amount of care their family members needed.Marketplace.org
Both of these types of scenarios are very common especially with first time caregivers who tend to neglect their own needs.
Two Resources You May Find Useful
Here are two resources that I would recommend to anyone who is looking to break out of the emotional dungeon that caregiving can put you in.
A great book that may be useful for you and that’s been recommended several times is Set Boundaries, Find Peace – A Guide To Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab
The second resource is a podcast titled Master The Art Of Boundaries.
How Do You Deal With The Stress Of Caring For An Elderly Parent?
For many family caregivers providing home care, they feel they have to at least try to be there for their elderly parents in some capacity. In their time of need. Even while they are working at full-time jobs.
Yes, caregiving can be tough, and for some it may be very rewarding (this certainly depends on the relationship you have with your elderly parent).
But even in the most loving relationships, caregiving can take it’s toll. Many situations can create unbearable stress.
- If you’ve been caring for your elderly mother (or parent) for a very long time.
- If you are continuously being abused verbally and/or physically by the person you are caring for.
- If you are juggling job, your own family, obligations, etc.
- If you are fighting your own health battles.
Any of these situations and more can quickly create an extremely difficult time as well as a dangerous situation both for your elderly mother and for you. Your own health can suffer for years after they have passed away.
So, take the bull by the horns and re-claim your life. You’ll be a better person in the long run and a better caregiver today.
24 Tips On Caring For Your Mother and Yourself
1. Take time for yourself – This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s important to take time away from your mother and spend some time on you. Try to get enough sleep (I know that can be difficult) so that you can care for her when she needs it most!
If you didn’t get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep last night or the night before – then it’s time to reconsider your current situation.
2. Don’t be afraid of asking for help – You are not alone in this, many caregivers have a hard time asking for help. The last thing that you want to do is put undue pressure on yourself or your elderly mother by trying to be the only caregiver in her life.
If there are younger brothers or sisters or other siblings, family members and friends who could provide some help, make sure they’re being asked for it!
3. Change up her diet – Try to make sure that your mother is eating a healthy, balanced diet that will sustain her throughout the day. If she is having trouble with chewing or swallowing, it might be time to find some easy-to-eat foods for her!
4. Keep an eye on your mother’s medications – It can be difficult to keep track of all meds and dosages for most of us but especially elderly people. If she starts forgetting doses or taking too many, watch out for side effects like confusion and dizziness. Medication reminders like these may help.
5. Set limits – Be sure to set clear boundaries with your elderly mother about what you will be able to handle during the day. The more you try to take on, the worse things will get! Make sure to let her know that she can only make phone calls to you within certain times of the day. This will help to avoid the constant phone calling so many elderly parents do.
6. If possible, give her some free time – It is important to give your mother the opportunity to be as independent as she can be. She will feel better and you’ll have a chance to do something for yourself too!
7. Get help from professionals – If you are caring for an elderly loved one, it’s ok to hire help. It can be anything from someone to come in and clean the house to someone to sit with your mother while you shop to someone actually caring for your mother’s personal needs.
8. Stay Healthy – You can’t take care of someone else if you are running on empty! Even though it may be difficult at times, try to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
9. Take care of yourself first – The caregiver is the one who needs to be cared for as well! Spend time alone, in your own place doing things you enjoy and make sure that your family knows how important it is so they do not take advantage of you or feel guilty about asking for assistance themselves.
10. Take a break – as often as you can! Even 15 – 20 minutes of listening to music, taking a walk around the block can help. It’s the little things done multiple times a day that can be very beneficial.
11. Exercise – It is important to maintain your physical fitness as well. Being active will help you stay healthy and feel better emotionally. Take a walk, go for a swim, ride or cycle with friends or family members who share the same interest in order to have some fun while getting exercise done!
12. Spend time with friends – Spending more time to nurture and develop relationships will provide you with the opportunity to get a break from caregiving and reduce your stress. Call your best friend for lunch every month or so!
13. Participate in activities away from your mother – If you are not working full time, consider volunteering for a charity or cause that is important to you – It’s just one way of feeling better about yourself while helping others out!
14. Keep an eye on your bank account – Too often, part of caregiving includes using your own money to purchase products and/or services for your elderly mother or parent. You don’t want to drain your own savings (if you can help it) so keep track of what you are spending your hard earned savings on.
15. Consider taking a break from your caregiving tasks – Find someone else who can help out in order to give your self an opportunity to get away and recharge. A weekend would be wonderful but even one night away can help you to recharge.
16. Consider professional help – Breaking free from caregiving can be done if you identify the best sources of assistance. Seek out professional help for yourself to help you deal with the stress and guilt most always associated with caring for our senior parents. Find respite care so that you can share the workload that comes with caring for someone.
17. Get a pet – Pets can provide you with companionship and reduce stress. As long as your mother is not allergic to whatever pet you choose, of course.
18. Share your feelings with friends, family or caregiving professionals – Talk to your circle of older adults, family, clergy, etc. Share your thoughts online via Facebook groups (although honestly, person in person can be better).
19. Take time to create memories – Caregivers often feel like they are running out of time to spend with their older parents. This plays into the guilt. So, begin a good time project of “interviewing” your elderly mother and asking her questions about her life. Film it if you like. Create a journal of her stories. Sift through photos and create a scrapbook of her life to be shared with the family.
20. Try relaxation techniques – Relaxation is an essential strategy for reducing stress because stress often leads to poor health outcomes.
21. Reach out for support – It can be difficult to cope with the constant stress and emotional demands of caring for an elder parent without help. Consider hiring an aide to help with things like bathing, changing adult diapers and catheters, etc.
22. Utilize community resources for caregivers – like support groups. If you can find a local support group, I would highly encourage you to make it a part of your life as soon as possible. You will be able to express your feelings and frustrations with others who understand you. Plus, you may learn a few tips from others as well.
Look into the resources from a nonprofit organization. There are many to choose from like the Parkinson’s Foundation, The Caregiver Foundation, Caregiver Wellness Retreats and many more.
These resources can be specific to whatever health problems your mother (or father) are dealing with or they can be more generalized. I’m sure you can find help from several of them.
23. Caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease – There is no doubt that if your elderly mother is suffering from vascular dementia or any other form of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease or even severe mental illness – that she (and you) will have very specific complications and needs.
This is when it’s extremely important to get as much professional help as possible or strongly consider placement in a nursing home type of facility.
24. Don’t discount Hospice help – too many families wait until the last few days or weeks to contact Hospice for help because they think of that program as an “end of life” service. But that is very, very wrong. Hospice provides comfort care for persons who are living with a terminal illness from which there is no available treatment.
Medications and supplies can sometimes be delivered as soon as that same day or the very next day.
My mother’s hospice social worker and nurse both told us that they have had patients under their care for up to 3 years! That’s a lot of support and care so don’t discount it!
Speak to your mother’s primary care doctors about hospice and don’t be surprised if they initially turn you down. My mother’s doctor told us my mother was “…extremely healthy and doesn’t need hospice.” But we insisted and it ended up being the best decision and truthfully, the best 4 months of my mother’s life in many, many years.
How Do You Deal With A Toxic Elderly Mother?
Caring for an elderly mother with whom you do not have a good relationship with can literally drive you to drink. Believe me, I have been there. You need much more than just good luck to survive it.
It is difficult to have a good relationship with anyone who has been so toxic to you. Her bitterness, resentfulness and anger was there last year and the years before. And I hate to tell you, it will probably be there next year too.
The question then becomes how do you go about caring for an elderly mother who does not care about your feelings? Who says terrible things to you continuously?
Set Boundaries From The Start
Using the “Detaching With Love” technique that Al-Anon members are taught can help you to properly set up the kind of boundaries that you need in order to survive caregiving for your elderly mother.
Detaching involves four key concepts: (source Psychcentral.com)
- Having appropriate boundaries
- Accepting reality
- Being in the present, not the past or future
- Taking responsibility for our feelings and needs
The basic idea is to let go and take control of your own feelings, your own thoughts and essentially become in charge of your own life – not theirs.
- You let go of past indiscretions, hate and anger.
- You let go of your mother’s problems and issues.
- You stop reacting to her comments and actions.
- You stop obsessing about her and worrying about her.
- And finally, you let go of the expectation that your mother’s behavior will change.
My siblings and I went through this with our own mother. In order to survive caring for her – we had to do our best to accept that as much as we had always wanted a loving mother – she simply wasn’t capable of giving us that.
We had to accept her limitations and realize that she was angry at life, at herself, at her decisions and everything else – including us.
We did our best to care for her in as loving a manner as we could – in spite of the verbal lashings and truly hateful words. She was in emotional pain and did not know how to get out of it. The same may be true with your own mother.
Can Being A Caregiver Kill You?
Although caregiving won’t literally put a knife in your heart or shoot a bullet into you killing you – there are many other ways that caring for an elderly parent can cause you much harm now and in the future.
The average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and provides at least 20 hours a week of unpaid care to her aging parent, according to the latest data from the Family Caregiving Alliance.msxfactor.com
I am part of the Baby Boomer generation and as such am seeing many friends and family dealing with the stress and strain that comes with caring for an elderly parent.
Because medicine and technology is advancing so quickly, our parents are living much longer than their parents did and as a result, we are caring for our parents well into our own retirement years. In fact, “34% of caregivers are 65+ years old“. (source: caregiver.org)
The stress of caring for an elderly mother or father for so many years, sometimes decades can certainly wreak havoc on someone’s physical and emotional being.
A study conducted at Ohio State University in 2003 found…
…significant deterioration in the health of caregivers and a 63% higher death rate than the similar group of non-caregivers. The continuous demands placed on an adult child caring for an aging parent can induce illness and depression, limit the effectiveness of the caregiver, and even lead to premature death.ddplanwithheritage.com
It all has to do with impact of stress on the body. That’s why it’s so very, very, very important for caregivers to care for themselves first.
What To Do When You Can No Longer Care For An Elderly Parent?
At some point, most caregivers come to the realization that they simply can’t continue and that their health, their finances and their own families simply can’t endure the pain and suffering any longer and that it’s time to let go.
Believe me, it’s not an easy decision. But after decades of seeing this scenario unfold hundreds of times with my patients, family and friends I can honestly say that it’s a healthy decision, for everyone involved.
“Other people don’t always like or understand our decisions,” says Steven Zarit, a professor in the human development and family studies department at Pennsylvania State University and a caregiver support group leader. “We all have limits on what we are able to do, and if we have done the best we can and can’t go on, we shouldn’t feel guilty.”aplaceformom.com
So what are the steps to begin disengaging?
#1 – Get the professional help / counseling that you need to learn the skills and muster the strength to implement your new plan.
#2 – Let everyone know of your decision and your new approach.
#3 – Make the decision of how your elderly mother will be taken care of. Will it be by a private aide at her home? Will it be at a facility? Perhaps another family member?
#4 – Use a Geriatric Care Manager to help you with these decisions.
It is important to take time for yourself, even if it feels like you have no spare moments. Be sure to find ways that work best for YOU – finding balance doesn’t mean doing everything at once; it just means making choices about what’s important right now.
Taking care of an elderly mother may feels at time like it’s going to kill you – and it certainly can – if you let it.
Follow the tips in this article and you’ll be well on your way to making this part of your life, the caregiving part, as pleasant as it can be.